Marrying for Love? How About Not Marrying Because of the Economy

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According to recently released Census data, the percentage of young adults (ages 25 to 34) who have never married has been on a steady rise over the past decade, from 34.5% in 2000 to 43.9% in 2008. In 2009, with the full onset of the recession—and apparently, with widespread feelings that getting married was a bad idea amid an uncertain economy—the never-married numbers rose more sharply, up to 46.3%, and for the first time ever surpassed the percentage of young married folks (44.9%). This is hardly the only part of American life that’s changed during the recession era: The Census also reveals that fewer people are moving, and fewer people own homes, while more people are getting college degrees and more people are spending at least 30% of their income on renting.

Everybody seems to have jumped on the marriage-decline trend as historic and significant, most obviously the Population Reference Bureau, which proclaimed “A Growing Marriage Gap” in a nation that’s transformed over the decades: In the 1960s, for example, the marriage rate among young adults was roughly 80%. More recently:

Since 2000, the proportion married has declined in every state. However, several states in the Northeast and Southwest experienced bigger declines than others… These state-level results suggest that rising unemployment rates may have contributed to regional marriage patterns, but that it was not the only factor. In Rhode Island, for example, rising unemployment rates were associated with a sharp drop in the proportion married.

The WSJ highlighted the fact that big cities are especially full of young adults who’ve never been married:

In many big cities, never-married young adults are a strong majority among their peers. In San Francisco, 82% of adults between 25 and 34 had never been married in 2009, the largest share among big U.S. cities. Atlanta, New York and Minneapolis were all among the top 20 U.S. cities with the largest share of never-married young adults, with shares greater than 75%.

Meanwhile, the NY Times reported that the marriage drop wasn’t limited just to young people:

Among the total population 18 and older, the share of men and women who were married fell from 57 percent in 2000 to 52 percent in 2009 — again, the lowest percentage since the government began collecting data more than 100 years ago. The share of adult women who were married fell below half, to 49.9 percent.

While marriage rates are down, cohabitation rates are up—so it’s not like all those non-married young adults are living in their parent’s basements. They’re probably just more inclined to test out the relationship in uncertain times before jumping into the uncertainty of marriage. And apparently, they’re not all that likely to be having babies: It’s been previously reported that U.S. birth rates have fallen to the lowest rates in a century.

A USA Today story cites tons of non-marriage-related data, such as in 2009:

*median income fell 2.9%, to $50,221

*84.6% of people didn’t move in the previous year (up from 83.2% in 2006)

*4.3% of people worked from home (up from 3.9% in 2006)

Another USA Today story focuses on the state of housing as depicted by Census data, and it was revealed that:

*51.5% of people spent more than 30% of income on rent in 2009 (up from 50% in 2008)

*homeownership rates dropped from 66.6% in 2008 to 65.9% in 2009—and overall, there were roughly 500,000 fewer homeowners and nearly one million more renters

*the median home price dropped by 6%

So while it might not seem like a good time to get married, it appears to be a fine time to buy a newly cheaper home. Depending on the state of your relationship and the local housing market, one may be a smarter investment than the other.